Parents’ Perceptions of Youth Sports

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Scott VanderStoep, Hope College

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At least 30 million children participate in sports each year (Brenner, 2007), yet one in three children quits a sports team each year (Hyman, 2009). Children can experience burnout as their intensity of involvement increases. In a study by Wiersma and Fifer (2008), only one parent out of 55 mentioned the healthy benefits of youth sports involvement. Increased participation has also created increased injury rates. About half of these are overuse injuries, which are more serious in developing children (Brenner, 2007). The present study conducted structured interviews of parents regarding their views of children’s athletics. Eighteen parents of competitive youth athletes (13 mothers, 5 fathers), ages 37-58 years (M = 47.5) years, participated. The participants’ children were 26 girls and 20 boys, ages 5-26 years (M = 16.3). The interview consisted of thirteen questions regarding general experiences in youth sports, rest time, and injury history. Two themes that emerged were conceptually related, but a third theme seemed contrary to the reported behaviors and attitudes. First, all children were encouraged by a non-parent to play elite sports, and most parents felt that it was necessary to make their high school teams. Second, all parents agreed that the cost of youth sports was very high, but parents felt helpless about do anything about it. Third, the goals of most parents were for their children to make friends, learn to work with others, and have fun in sports. These goals would seem to be obtainable without the costs and travel demands of elite participation, which the parents view as necessary. This study confirms that the goals of most parents are consistent with recommendations of practitioners—balance, avoiding overuse, and a focus on fitness. However, the intense nature of youth sports can force children’s sports participation to become excessive.

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